Know your currawongs

Currawongs vs Magpies

At a recent family gathering where physical distancing was strictly enforced, my dear Uncle pointed out that in my blog post about the Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head, I had made a mistake!

I had incorrectly identified magpies as currawongs. This is a grave error and my family of amateur but deadly serious twitchers were somewhat disturbed by my rookie faux pas.  There was a great deal of comment about my journalistic credentials and accusations of “fake news”.

I, therefore, apologise most humbly for my error and all future posts which include the identification of native Australian birds will be subject to strict quality checking by the newly established Family Ornithological Committee.

I’d like to thank my most esteemed Uncle for not calling me out publically and highlighting my error in the comments section.

🙂

These are magpies, not currawongs.

Check out the cheeky magpies at this site

 

Magpies have a lighter coloured beak and extensive white markings. There are significant regional differences between magpies. Juveniles are grey. They should also not be confused with pee-wees which are much smaller. Currawongs, on the other hand, have a black beak and only a small amount of white on their under-tail area. I don’t have a photo of a currawong or pee-wees to share.

Furious Fiction 14 – August 2020

Another month, another attempt at the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction Competition. 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

This month the criteria were

  • Your story must contain HUMOUR/COMEDY (which is defined).
  • Your story must include the following five words: DIZZY, EXOTIC, LUMPY, TINY, TWISTED.
  • Your story must include a sandwich.

 

If you have been following my stories over the last few months, you’ll know I have centred them around Frankie the Flamboyant Dresser.  Last month, I couldn’t progress the story because there was no wedding or funeral needed in Frankie’s world.

This month’s criteria fell into Frankie’s lap! I was looking for a way to create a bridge between him meeting his kindred spirit, George in the Gibson Desert, to his arrest and entrapment in the park. This story gets me part of the way there. Next month, with suitable criteria I can make to next leap.

On the other hand, I am also looking for a route to the finale where Judge O’Mallory, Andrea and Frankie join forces. But that’s beginning to give too much away!


Fried up Kombi

Teetering on the window sill of the 18-wheeler rig, George was making exploratory darts left and right, up and down with his boot searching for any foothold to stop him from dropping to the ground or falling into the cab completely.

Attempting to charm the driver, a lumpy-arsed blue-singleted specimen, he agreed that yes it was a long way, but it really wasn’t that far out of his way to take them to Perth.  Or…  no… no worries, if that didn’t work for him, Adelaide would be fine too. Just anywhere other than here next to the fried-up Kombi.

Frankie, George’s companion, couldn’t resist the obvious next line, “Just smile and give him a Vegemite sandwich George! That’ll convince him!”

George twisted his neck out of the window at such an angle, that Frankie thought his head would snap right off and onto the road.

“Shut up Frankie!” George hissed “He’s agreed to take us to Adelaide. Stop acting like a dick!”

Frankie held his finger to his mouth in an exaggerated shush, “Yes Boss!”

Seconds later, Frankie was twerking down the road like an exotic dancer, singing to himself. He stopped abruptly and spun around  “Hey, where exactly is Brussels, anyway?”

Shrivelling away from George’s withering glance, Frankie spun back around and continued his dancing only to stop even more abruptly before exclaiming “Shit, I’m dizzy!” and spewing all over the road.

That ended George’s discourse with the lumpy-arsed, blue-singleted driver who unceremoniously pushed George out the window, as he put his truck into gear and sped off. Well, as fast as a fully laden 18-wheeler can speed off from a dead stop.

“Bloody wankers!” the driver yelled out the window as he rumbled away in a cloud of bulldust.

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“Nice one, Frankie! Nice one! Now we’re stuck here until the next truckie comes along, and who knows when that’ll be!”

“Sorry, I  got a teeeeeensy bit too excited!” Frankie slurred, trying to defuse George’s anger with a cute voice and a gesture with his fingers showing exactly how tiny his excitement was.

“You’re pissed” George sighed.

“YES, I AM!!” said Frankie “And dehydrated and hungry! And smelly!”

It had been a long night since George’s Kombi had literally fried, leaving him stranded six hundred kilometres east of Broome with a lost soul he had only just met.

A long two-bottles-of-bourbon night, where Frankie and George had talked and talked about ALL the things, cementing their new friendship with secrets and dreams.

All the bourbon was in Frankie’s belly now, so it could only get better. They’d just have to sit and hope the next driver would take them to Perth or Adelaide or anywhere! Anywhere, before THEY fried.

“Hey George, do you reckon he says chunder or plunder?”

With that, George stood up with a menacing smile and rolled Frankie into the ditch whispering, “You better run, you better take cover!”

And then he whistled like a flute…Do-diddle-do-Do-da-di-da-di-do-da!

(You’re singing it, aren’t you!)

Desert Pano3


In case the cultural references are too parochially Australian, they refer to a Men at Work song  From the Land Down Under, a big hit in the 1980s.

Camping on Cockatoo Island

What a treat! Camping in the middle of Sydney Harbour with uninterrupted views of the sun rising over the Harbour Bridge! Must be a private resort? No!  This harbour gem is owned and managed by the Sydney Harbour Trust and is open to the public.

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour.  A UNESCO World Heritage site with a busy history, its been a place for indigenous women’s business, convicts, a reform school for women and girls and most recently a shipyard.

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The bar was serving drinks and hamburgers and closed at 6 PM

The various buildings leftover from these previous uses are still in place and many are open for public viewing.  The island re-opened as a picnic spot and cultural precinct in 2007 after the shipyards closed in the late 1980s.

Camping on Cockatoo Island

Aside from day visits, you can camp on Cockatoo Island. You can either bring all your own gear or rent a tent with beds and linen.  The accommodations are basic but comfortable. There is an amenities block with hot showers and toilets, a laundry block and a camp kitchen. There are three cafes, however these close fairly early in the evening, so don’t rely on them for dinner. (Closure times were affected by COVD restrictions so check it out before you go) You can not take alcohol onto the island although you can buy some limited takeaway supplies from the cafes. Your bags may be checked at the wharf by security or rangers.

The camp kitchen has a toaster, microwaves, fridges and plenty of BBQ plates. There is no other cooking equipment, so you need to come properly prepared as you would for any camping venture. Given you need to take it on a public ferry, you also need to be pretty frugal with your packing!

The campsites are unpowered. There are power points (only 4) at the camp kitchen and in the shower cubicles. Take your own torch for inside the tent, or hire a lanterns from the site officce.

When I visited, in July 2020, the number of tents had been reduced by half to ensure there was adequate spacing between them and to reduce the number of people on the island due to COVID. There were only 2 other tents in use the night I stayed, so it was certainly not crowded! There are rangers and security guards on duty 24 hours, so I felt safe and secure. You might want to take a small padlock to secure the zippers on your tent when you are out and about during the day.

The setting is amazing! Massive metal structures, cranes and slipways all creating tantalizing backdrops for photographers. I wandered around after dark looking for spooky spots! The staff organise a fire pit when the weather is fine so perhaps you’d like to take a guitar and sit around the fire and sing! There is a ghost tour as well if you wanted to book. This is currently on hold due to COVID!

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By happy coincidence, the  Sydney Biennale, an art exhibition, was on during my visit. It is normally on in March but had been postponed because of, you guessed it, COVID!

How to get to Cockatoo Island.

There are very regular ferry services to Cockatoo Island leaving from Wharf 5 at Circular Quay. Rivercat ferries heading downriver to Parramatta and the ‘normal’ green and yellow harbour ferries both visit the Island.  They start early and finish late so you should not have trouble getting there.

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one of the many shipbuilding cranes still in situ.

The bloody seagulls!

My only complaint, if it is one, where the bloody seagulls! There were plenty of them and it was mating season.  They were also very loud and territorial, much more so than the other times I had visited. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep but their raucous squawking did not end up bothering me too much. I didn’t see a single cockatoo!

 

How much does it cost to camp on Cockatoo Island?

The cost of the ferry will depend on what day you go and ranges from $2.50 – $6 one way. The deluxe camping package which is the deal I took was $155 per night. I could have got a 20% Biennale discount but I did not see the promo until after I had already booked. I purchased some groceries from the Woolworths near Wynard Station. This is the closest supermarket to the Quay. I bought items that I could heat up in the microwave.  I had my cutlery kit with me so I was all set for a cheap night in!

Mt rating for this venue is 5 stars! If you had a group of buddies to sit around the campfire with on a frosty winter night – 10 stars! If you’re a photographer – 12 stars!

Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head.

Cheapskate travel in Sydney!

I recently took a day trip from sunny Wollongong (best place on Earth!) to the big smoke of Sydney to check out the Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head. There is nothing quite like being a tourist in your own patch. You speak the language, know the lingo, and you don’t have to exchange any money. And you don’t have to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards!

Middle Head 1
Verdigris – metal meets elements

I am living a Year of Zero and have given myself a strict travel budget to follow. It’s pretty close to zero! I factored in an allowance for some short local experiences to stop me from going completely crazy.  This expedition was cheap!  If you travel on a Sunday, your public transport fares will max out at $2.80, and if you bring your own food, you don’t need to spend anything else all while enjoying million-dollar harbour views. I went on a Friday, but still, the daily cap is just over $16.

It was an easy half-day excursion which I rounded off by heading over to another lovely harbour location – Cockatoo Island for the (free)  Sydney Biennale exhibition. I’ll write a separate post about that.

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One of the metal rails used to slide the cannon.

New “Old” Stuff in Australia.

While Australia may be the continent with the oldest human culture on Earth, it’s not big on castles, paleolithic excavation sites or massive cathedrals. The oldest building in Sydney, Elizabeth Farm, is only 227 years old. The oldest (non-indigenous) structure in Australia is a stone fort built by shipwreck survivors from the Batavia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 near the (now) town of Geraldton.

Prior to European settlement, Middle Head was home to the Borogegal People, the Traditional Custodians of Headland Park.  I acknowledge and thank them for their continuing care of the land that is, was, and always will be theirs.

While our indigenous culture is rich and old, our European culture is only a pup in global terms. None-the-less there are still some interesting things to see for those with an interest in history. The Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head near Mosman are just such a place.

The first fortifications on the site were built in 1801 and the larger battery positions were constructed in 1871.

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Middle Head is, well in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and is a very good defensive point to prevent ships coming into the Harbour itself. In addition to the concrete fortifications, there are some old army barracks from the 1940s, most of which are currently empty, and crying out for gentrification.

The Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks rent out the Officers Quarters as holiday lettings. (Currently $400 – 600 for 2 bedrooms with  a total of 4 beds)

How to get to the  Fortifications at Middle Head:

  • From Taronga Zoo: Catch a ferry from Circular Key to Taronga Zoo and then walk along the headlands. Rather than cutting across to Balmoral Beach as shown in the map, walk downhill near HMAS Penguin on Middle Head Road or Chowder Bay Road. After you have finished at the fortifications, you can continue on to Balmoral Beach for lunch and coffee and then catch a number 245 bus back to Wynyard Station. The is a handy bus stop at the corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade. Be on the shop side of the road. The walk is about 8 km all up. Also, see Wild Walks for good directions.
  • Directly from Wynyard Station: If you don’t want such a long walk, catch the No. 244 bus from Stand A in Carrington Street, and get off at the stop just past HMAS Penguin. Then walk around to Balmoral Beach. It’s a relatively easy walk of about 1.5 km on a paved surface. Catch the No 245 bus back to Wynyard Station from the southern corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade.

Word of Caution: Check the timetables before you go to make sure you don’t get stuck! The TripView App or the NSW Transport webpage will help here. Google Maps also has info about timetables.

Food, Water and Toilets!

If you decide not to bring your own food, there are two cafes (Middle Head Cafe and Burnt Orange). There are more places to eat at Balmoral Beach. The Bathers’ Pavilion is pretty swanky and definitely beyond my budget. (Set menu $110 pp!)  However, Balmoral Beach is a great place for a picnic, so I’d pack a healthy and more frugal lunch box if you are also keen on saving some money.

I went on this little excursion while some COVID restrictions were still in place and chose only to get a takeaway cup of tea. Things were still a bit awkward as you needed to book ahead, and there was reduced capacity, so it was hard to just rock up and expect service at the cafes. There are some fish and chip places which are not dine-in.

There are toilets at the entrance to the Middle Head Park just past the boom gates and at the building near the round-a-bout as you get off the bus. There are several sets of toilets along the Esplanade at  Balmoral Beach

There are water fountains on Balmoral Beach, or fill up at the taps at the loos.

PS: The Old Chooks made a comeback and travelled with me. Don’t tell Iain he’ll be furious he was left at home on the shelf!

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Furious Fiction 12 – June 2020

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

Here is my entry for June’s Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly competition. Lockdown is nearly over here in Australia, but things remain unsettled with racial tension adding another dangerous element to the world’s instability.

As I’ve said before, this competition is a fun activity with a terrific prize. You can read about it on their website.

Basically, it’s 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

The criteria for June were:

  • Your story’s first and last words must begin with J.
  • Your story must include a game being played.
  • Your story must include the phrase MISS/MISSED THE BOAT.

I’ve continued with Frankie’s journey and although I feel it is unlikely this chapter will make much sense as a stand-alone piece, I am now more focused on the challenge of completing his story using the prompts given.

This month’s entry was submitted on Saturday night at 22:15. 496 words.

You can read the previous chapter in Frankie’s story here.


Chapter 5: Justice for all.

Justice is a tricky concept.  Frankie knew justice didn’t mean fair. It didn’t mean right. It didn’t even mean protection of the innocent. It was a game invented by the people who owned the ball.  A blood sport rigged to ensure the rich always won, even if they broke their own rules. 

Frankie was playing for the wrong team. Judge O’Mallory, on the other hand, was on the winning side. Frankie imagined O’Mallory had been fullback for the First XV at St Swanky’s or wherever his type goes to school.  He probably went to boarding school, packed off at five by his neglectful cold-hearted parents. 

As the bailiff dragged him screaming from the courtroom, Frankie decided it was time he learnt to play by their rules.

He needed someone to tell his story.

——-

“Bailiff! Take him down!” The thunderous words were still ringing in Judge O’Mallory’s ears as the door slammed on Frankie. He wasn’t feeling like a winner. He’d sentenced another poor wretch to five years in prison on the whim of a corrupt government. A government that allowed for the tyrannical rule of the black-shirted Fashion Police. 

—–

Personal grooming had sunk to all-time lows after COVID. People didn’t even bother wearing pants when they were Zooming! The lack of respect spilt over into other areas of life and before long there was anarchy!  

The lack of decency and dignity was deplorable! Someone needed to do something! 

Someone did. 

The UCP. 

The Ultra Conservative Party burst onto the scene after the Pandemic with their promises of a return to the “Old Normal”. Changes in the laws were incremental. Like a lobster in a pot, the heat was turned up so slowly no-one noticed until it was too late. The populous had missed the boat on the democracy front.

Low-slung jeans were the first to go. No more dudes with the crotch of their jeans down around their knees. Who could argue with that? A ban on exposed underwear was quickly followed by the prohibition of activewear anywhere other than the gym. Again a significant portion of the population supported that particular ruling. 

Then bright colours, florals, patterns, stripes and animal prints.  

The UCP controlled the market by buying out all the boutiques.  Easily done, since most had gone under in the lockdown.

They introduced a regulated monochromatic capsule wardrobe which stipulated less than twenty items, a mandated date for changing from one season’s capsule to the next, and jail time for those who breached the code. 

—–

O’Mallory wasn’t the only judge feeling uncomfortable about the fashion laws. The secret rumblings amongst his colleagues were getting bolder.

They needed someone to tell their story.

Frankie’s opinion of O’Mallory was wrong. He didn’t know he had an ally in silk and horsehair

Both men needed the same thing, a fearless storyteller! Someone who was willing to blow the whistle on corruption and intolerance. Did such a person still exist? 

What they needed was a bloody good journalist! 

Cracker Night no more.

Here’s a link to a post I wrote two years ago! I noticed it was getting a bit of traffic so people must be looking for stories about Cracker Night.

This weekend is the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend again. As was the case two years ago, there’ll be no fireworks tonight. COVID restrictions are almost all lifted but large gatherings are still prohibited. Even without COVID19, I doubt I will hear many crackers tonight.

It’s no longer a thing. In my childhood, it was a huge event, eagerly anticipated. We would save up to buy crackers for weeks. It was not without its problems. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald points out the inherent dangers.

The Sad Case of the Vanishing Cracker Night

 

Snapshots from Wollongong – Wollongong

W is also for Wollongong

It’s been a little while since I posted in my Snapshots from Wollongong Series  and like I said in the  Snapshot for Woonona, Wollongong has more than its fair share of suburbs starting with W. The heart of the city is itself, called Wollongong.  I live in Wollongong.

The suburb of Wollongong

This is the biggest the “big smoke” gets in the Illawarra! As well as being home to more than 18,000 people we have the Mall, the Municipal Buildings, night clubs, the CBD, restaurants etc. There is a small art gallery, as well as the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. There are lots of commercial offices with doctors, architects and the like. Wollongong plays host to the State Headquarters of the SES. There is a large regional  Police Station and Courthouse. If you have business to do, no doubt most of it will be done in Wollongong.

Wollongong City Infographic

There is one long beach, Wollongong City Beach, which stretches down to Port Kembla. The southern part of this beach is called Coniston Beach. City Beach is patrolled in the season. Coniston Beach is not patrolled but it is a dog-off-leash area, so it’s very popular with pet owners. If you would prefer not to swim in the open ocean, head to the Continental Pools which are on the foreshore walk known as the Blue Mile.

a long beach with a dark cloudy sky
Wollongong’s City Beach Looking Towards Port Kembla

Belmore Basin, the area nestled between the Breakwater Lighthouse and the breakwater itself, is a great place for families to enjoy the outdoors with cafes, a sheltered swimming area, pretty scenery and play equipment. This area is the hub for many of our city’s celebrations such as Australia Day. The other big park, McCabe Park, hosts events as well such as Viva La Gong and the annual celebration of the city’s multicultural community.

The northern end of Keira Street has many restaurants including Caveau, our only “hatted” establishment. Corrimal Street also has a concentration of restaurants. The mall has recently been refurbished and is now a great open space where you can enjoy markets on Fridays, and Eat Street on Thursdays. You might like to look at the interesting street art – the Palm Trees. Residents are still scratching their heads about that one!

 

The WIN Stadium, which is home to the St George – Illawarra Dragons (a rugby league team)  is a stadium with a capacity of 23,000 is right on the beach and next door to the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. Elton John played at the WIN Stadium in 2019. I think there were as many people sitting on the beach enjoying his music for free as there were inside the stadium! This is also a great precinct for a conference.

Continental Pools, Wollogong Harbour
The Continental Pools

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The Little Lighthouse - Wollongong
Lighthouse at sunrise

There are two lighthouses, a working harbour, a teaching hospital and a golf club. The dominating feature though is the apartment buildings that are being built at a prodigious rate. Seventy-one % of the people living in Wollongong live in apartments.  The cranes are busy building more.

Wollongong also has a series of very good street murals which I have written about previously.

One of the features I really enjoy about Wollongong is the presence of good Op Shops, my favourite being the Salvos and then Lifeline.

Wollongong has certainly shaken off its “country town” persona and is a modern and cosmopolitan regional city. Many people will still travel up to Sydney for entertainment, but for an Old Chook like me, Wollongong has enough going on to keep me quite busy!

Furious Fiction 11 – May 2020

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

Another First Friday rolls around and here is my entry for May’s Furious Fiction, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly competition. Like last month we are still in lock down, although restrictions are beginning to be lifted in most places. Hopefully, not too soon. My heart goes out to the people of America who are now suffering the most.

As I’ve said before this competition is a fun activity with a terrific prize. You can read about it on their website.

Basically, it’s 500 words in 55 hours for a $500 prize.

The criteria for May were:

  • Your story’s first word must be FIVE.
  • Your story must include something being replaced.
  • Your story must include the phrase A SILVER LINING (‘a’ or ‘the’ is fine).

This month I was able to achieve my aim of getting Frankie in front of the judge. I also realised in my first chapter of this story our protagonist’s name was Charlie and somewhere along the line I switched it to Frankie. Ah well, from now on our flamboyant dresser is Frankie!

This month’s entry was submitted on Sunday morning about 9 AM although it was essentially finished on Saturday afternoon. 496 words.


Andrea’s Surprise

‘FIVE YEARS? You’ve GOT to be joking? Because I wore brightly coloured clothes? FASCIST!’ Frankie shouted as the gavel hit the sound block.

‘ORDER!’ Judge O’Mallory shouted back, ‘Bailiff! Take him down!’

‘Five years? I can’t! I’ll die!’ Frankie pleaded with his barrister. ‘Please! Do something, you’ve got to appeal!’

The barrister nonchalantly scratched the itch under the horsehair wig as the door slammed on Frankie and the din of his wails receded.

Do the crime pal, pay the time! Andrea thought. Frankie had been a difficult client. He had flouted the law several times, had already served time and here he was again only a few months after he had been released. He shouldn’t be surprised.

He was a recidivist.

He deserved it!

Didn’t he?

On the other hand, these Fashion Police and the Fashion Laws were getting a little out of hand. She couldn’t help thinking it was just another “-ism” oppressing the poor.

Well, it didn’t really matter what she thought, it was the law!

The bubble surrounding her reverie popped as Andrea caught the eye of her learned colleague across the aisle, winking and nodding his head ever so slightly toward the door. Although her own reaction was equally as imperceptible, the message was received loud and clear, and thirty minutes later Lloyd and Andrea were shouting seductively at each other across the noisy crowd in a bar. Crime Does Pay was a very popular venue for the lost souls of the legal fraternity. There was no colour there, only a sea of grey. The black gowns and white jabots replaced by the sedate and State-sanctioned garb that kept the law off their own backs.

They could let their hair down, but not their guard! No-one was safe from the Fashion Police. No-one.

 ‘What I don’t understand,’ Lloyd bellowed above the ruckus, ‘is why you take on these cases in the first place, Andrea?’

She had liked the look of Lloyd, but the more she got to know him, the more she realised their values were not aligned, and maybe looks were not enough. But then, it was Friday night, and it beat going home alone.

 ‘You know I can’t resist the underdog!’ she laughed.

 Lloyd pulled her close, ‘Ready to go? I’ve got a real surprise for you tonight!’

Andrea was perched on the window sill of the hotel room, high above the sparkling harbour. She smiled at her reflection, knowing the pink negligee was irresistible. She sipped her Moet and in her best bedroom voice called out,

‘Where’s this surprise you promised me?’ 

Lloyd emerged from the ensuite, naked. Naked except for a black cape with a silver lining.

He twirled.

The cape sparkled.

She gasped.

It was then that Andrea realised the real benefit of money was not buying expensive things, but rather a way of enabling you to hide your own vices and avoid detection.  Crime did pay –  her!

‘Now, that’s what I call a surprise!’ she cooed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelicans

Lake Illawarra

Pelican Portraits

The COVID19 movement restrictions are being lifted in NSW and we are all getting outside more. Getting back to “normal” and exploring our still clean environment. I went out last weekend for my first photo safari for a very long time. I wandered along the shore of Lake Illawarra and took some rather nice portraits of pelicans.

Pelicans are lovely birds. Big and ungainly on land, but magnificent flyers. Their broad wings carrying their heavy bodies effortlessly.

They eyed off the human fisherman with cheeky stares.

P1930901pelicansLake Illawarra fishermen